Length: 98 minutes
Release Date: Aug. 5, 1983
Directed by: Paul Brickman
Genre: Drama / Comedy
Stars: 3 out of 5
“Risky Business” defined the youth of America for a generation in the early 80s. The combination of comedy and drama touched the hearts of moviegoers and left many with a feel-good experience that remains a fun bit of nostalgia to this day. The movie manages to avoid many of the problems that can arise when you combine serious drama with comedy. It struggles at times with dramatic pacing in what should otherwise be humorous moments, however. The film is a great choice for a party with friends or just a night at home spent reminiscing about days gone by.
The movie focuses around the life of young Joel Goodsen (Tom Cruise). Joel, a stereotypical preppy teenager, finds himself home alone after his parents leave for vacation. In keeping with the style of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” he uses this opportunity to experience the wilder aspects of teen life. That adventure becomes complicated when a call girl with a heart of gold, Lana (Rebecca de Mornay), comes into his life. Pursued by her angry employer, Guido (Joe Pantoliano), Lana and Joel have to not only make the most of their time together but also have the time of their lives while they can.
The acting in the movie was a real breakthrough for Cruise and de Mornay. Tom Cruise has adopted a fabled playboy lifestyle and that real-life transition seems paralleled by this movie. He is exceptionally convincing as a preppy schoolboy who has turned bad and crossed the tracks. Likewise, de Mornay is every teen’s dream. Her believable performance as the stereotypical call girl who has greater dreams is definitely a highlight of the movie. Pantoliano is at turns menacing and hilarious as the erstwhile pimp, and many members of the supporting cast also give strong performances that are memorable even after the film is over.
The cinematography in “Risky Business” is hit-and-miss. Much like the dichotomy between the preppy and hardcore versions of the main character, the film seems torn between its portrayal of a serious drama with soft transitions and close-up shots and moments inspired more by early music videos with hard cuts and very fast transitions. This Jekyll-and-Hyde approach works in the story, but causes the cinematography to struggle in many arenas. Memorable moments such as the iconic scene involving Joel dancing at home alone stand out, but much of the film’s more dramatic moments are left behind. The lighting and sound also both struggle to strike the right balance throughout the movie.
The script borrows from tropes established in earlier films of the 1980s. The obvious inspiration of James Dean lies heavily on the film. The idea of a call girl with a heart of gold wasn’t firmly established as a trope at this point in time, and “Risky Business” does exceptionally well with helping create that staple of later films. The coming-of-age story itself is done very well. Paul Brickman, who both wrote and directed the film, manages to balance the transformation and changing attitudes of Joel against the hardened life of Lana expertly throughout the script. The dialogue itself is campy at turns, but this is usually played for laughs and comes across exceptionally well.
The two hats of director and scriptwriter may not have fit Brickman quite as well on the directorial side. While he manages to get one of the best performances out of Cruise the actor is likely to ever achieve, his choices for pacing and transitions seem strange at best. Where moviegoers are likely to expect quick action, they may find an otherwise fun scene bogged down with slow pacing. Hard transitions at the wrong moment also jar the audience out of their suspension of disbelief. This is never more apparent than in the few moments where Guido catches up to and almost catches the pair.
The strange pacing and cinematography choices don’t overly deter the film. Even though the script may struggle at times to escape the shadow of James Dean, the overall experience of the movie is still a fun romp. Everyone remembers Joel for dancing in his underwear in the living room. It’s moments like these that help “Risky Business” stand the test of time. The film is likely to find a home on the shelves of those who remember the 1980s and early-90s fondly. Fans of Tom Cruise and Rebecca de Mornay are likely to be pleased by the final product. Overall, the movie is a great choice for a night out with friends or an evening at home, perhaps scheduled before an underwear-garbed dance.